Microsoft

Wow, April 2010 proves to be a jam-packed month of releases from Microsoft. A short list, that is bound to be incomplete:

  • .NET Framework 4
  • Visual Studio 2010
  • Office 2010
  • SharePoint 2010
  • Data Protection Manager 2010
  • System Center Essentials 2010
  • Dynamics GP 2010
  • Enterprise Library 5.0
  • SQL Server 2008 R2

R2 Banner

The trial versions of SQL Server 2008 R2 are now available for download. Here are the highlights of what’s new in 2008 R2:

  • PowerPivot: a managed self-service analysis solution that empowers end users to access, analyze and share data across the enterprise in an IT managed environment using Excel 2010 and SharePoint Sever 2010.
  • Master Data Services: helps IT organizations centrally manage critical data assets companywide and across diverse systems, and enables more people to securely manage master data directly, and ensure the integrity of information over time.
  • Application and Multi-server Management: helps organizations proactively manage database environments efficiently at scale through centralized visibility into resource utilization and streamlined consolidation and upgrade initiatives across the application lifecycle.
  • Report Builder 3.0: report authoring component with support for geospatial visualization. This new release provides capabilities to further increase end user productivity with enhanced wizards, more powerful visualizations, and intuitive authoring.
  • StreamInsight: a low latency complex event processing platform to help IT monitor, analyze and act on the data in motion to make more informed business decisions in near real-time.

More details about the release can be found on the team blog.

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The Microsoft Enterprise Library has always been one of the most popular things to come out of the patterns & practices team. Yesterday p&p reached a major milestone by releasing version 5.0 of EntLib.

The improvements are too numerous to sum up here, but let me mention one: this release has full .NET 3.5 SP1 and .NET 4 compatibility and works great from both Visual Studio 2008 SP1 and Visual Studio 2010 RTM.

Full details can be found in Grigori Melnik’s blog post on this release. Or you can go straight to the download page or the documentation.

Long before I joined the company, Brad Abrams was one of the first people for me that put a human face on Microsoft.

I felt sad when I just read his blog post that Brad is leaving Microsoft. But at the same time I feel happy for all that he has accomplished for the company. Check his blog post for all that he has been involved in. Not on the list, but not less important in my mind, is the book Framework Design Guidelines that he co-authored.

Brad, I wish you all the best in your next endeavors.

.NET Frameworkin Windows Azure 

As you will probably know, Visual Studio 2010 and .NET Framework 4 will RTM on April 12, 2010 and will be available for download on MSDN Subscriptions Downloads the same day.

The Windows Azure team is committed to making .NET Framework 4 available in Windows Azure within 90 days of the RTM date.

A lesser known fact is that the latest available Windows Azure build already has a .NET 4 version installed, namely the RC bits. Although this version cannot be used to run applications on (because .NET 4 is not yet exposed in the Windows Azure dev tools), you can use this build to test if the presence of .NET 4 has impact on existing .NET 3.5 apps running on Windows Azure.

Read the official announcement here.

[Updated 2010-04-25: The lightweight view for MSDN has been fixed, so the content of this post is no longer relavant]
[Updated 2010-04-07: Updated one screenshot, because the lightweight view has changed]

MSDN has recently switched the default online view mode to “lightweight view”. Although this dramatically improves loading times for the online docs, this currently breaks parts of the Windows Azure Documentation. For example, when you view http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee393295(v=MSDN.10).aspx in lightweight mode, the namespaces are not hyperlinks and the menu is broken:

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To fix this, you have to click on the “Preferences” link in the upper right corner of the page:

image

 

Choose “Classic” on the page that appears:

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Click OK, and you’ll get back to a view that actually works:

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We are working on getting the “lightweight view” fixed with this part of the Azure documentation.

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Last week we published a new major version of the Visual Studio Performance Testing Quick Reference Guide. The effort of creating this document was lead by Geoff Gray. Geoff is a senior consultant in the Microsoft Services Labs in the US that specializes in performance testing using Visual Studio. I was part of the Rangers team that contributed articles to this guide.

From time to time I do performance testing engagements. Last week for example I worked for a customer and load tested their new Internet facing website before it goes live later this month. Performance testing uncovers issues in the software and the infrastructure that might otherwise go unnoticed until the public hits the site. And that is a bad time to discover performance issues.

Creating and executing real-world performance testing can be a tricky job and this quick reference guide gives lots of tricks & tips from consultants from Microsoft Services and the Visual Studio product team on how to tackle challenges you might encounter.

Visual Studio has a rich extensibility model for performance testing and that’s why it is interesting for development minded people like me. You can create plug-ins in C# to do  advanced parameterization of web tests and load tests (example on MSDN). The QRG has lots of examples of when and how this is useful.

Load testing is part of Visual Studio 2008 Team Suite or Test Edition and of Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate. With VS2010, if you need to simulate more than 1000 users, you can purchase “virtual user packs”. This will enable you to simulate higher loads using a test rig consisting of one test controller and several test agents. Previously with VS2008 you had to license each agent. You can’t be sure in advance how many users you can simulate with one agent because it depends on many factors like hardware and complexity of the application and the test itself.

Many organizations forego the effort of performance testing and take a “wait and see” stance. This reactive approach can lead to costly repairs and bad publicity. My advice is to take a proactive stance and be confident about the performance of your application before it goes live. In many cases there are quick wins to improve the performance by enabling better caching (blob caching for SharePoint). Even simple things like enabling HTTP compression are still often forgotten.

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I don’t write much for public consumption these days, i.e., this blog has gone really quiet 😉 Most of my work is for clients that don’t like it if I blog about that.

But I did write an article about cloud computing and Windows Azure for the Dutch TechNet Magazine with my colleague Dennis Mulder. It wasn’t until today that I had an actual hardcopy in my hands.

The article titled “Microsofts Cloud Computing Platform” (written in Dutch) is available as a PDF. For the entire content of the Februari 2010 issue of the magazine check this page.

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Ever since the internal unveiling of Windows Azure as project “Red Dog” at our internal TechReady conference in July 2008, I’ve been very interested in this Software+Services platform.

Technical strategist Steve Marx from the Windows Azure team recently released a cool sample app called The CIA Pickup. He put up a demonstration video and a nice architecture drawing of this app up on his blog.

TheCiaPickup_Logo

Using the app you can pretend to be a CIA agent and hand out a phone number and your agent id to someone. When this person calls this number, they are greeted by an automated message that says they are connected to the CIA automated phone system and are requested to enter your agent id. After they have entered your id, you will receive their caller id via e-mail.

Seeing that 90% of the IT population seems to be male of which probably 95% is straight, I can see why the app is slightly biased in helping men picking up phone numbers of women. But if you don’t like this, you can always pick up the source and change the text. Which I did. Not to change the text, but to make some improvements so that I could run the app in my own Windows Azure playground in the cloud.

For example, the SMTP port of my e-mail service is not the standard port 25. I made this port configurable and in the process I found out that the app has to be deployed with full trust in order to be able to use the non standard port. I added logging to trouble shoot issues like this and made some security improvements.

I contributed these improvements back to Steve and he has gracefully credited me in his second blog post.

The CIA Pickup app is a great example of the power of combining different off-the-shelf services like SMTP providers, telephony service Twilio, Azure Table and Queue Storage, Windows Live ID Authentication with custom code, C# and ASP.NET MVC, running in the cloud. You can literally have this up-and-running within a couple of hours, including the creation of all necessary accounts.

So go try it out! You don’t need to deploy the app yourself to do this. You can use Steve’s deployment for this. Although it uses the US phone number +1 (866) 961-1673, it works when dialing from the Netherlands. If you want to get in touch, use my agent id 86674 😉

Yesterday Microsoft published a ~ 100 TB image update to Live Search Maps. And finally, we have bird’s eye imagery for Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Since I live in Amsterdam, you can imagine that I am pretty thrilled about this.

This is the bird’s eye image of Dam Square in Amsterdam:

 Bird's Eye Imagery for Amsterdam in Live Search Maps

The platform that powers Live Search Maps is called Virtual Earth. It is a developer friendly platform that allows you to easily embed maps, aerial and satellite photography on your own web pages. The UI is customizable, so you are not stuck with what is provided by default. You can overlay icons, pictures and text on the map.

The Dutch version of Live Search Maps is an example of a site that is build on the Virtual Earth platform. It looks like the standard version, but it integrates with De Telefoongids en Gouden Gids data to locate people and businesses. If you live in the Netherlands this version is probably better suited for you than the international version.

Check out how easy it is to use the Virtual Earth platform by using the Interactive SDK on http://dev.live.com/virtualearth/. It is one of the Live Services that we provide. Check out the Virtual Earth Mashups Library to get an idea of what is possible with this platform.

 

One of the cool features of Live Search Maps is that it allows you to discover community content like geotagged Photosynths. For instance, by going to Leeuwarden and clicking “Verzamelingen” in the upper right corner, you can find my Photosynth of the train station in Leeuwarden:

Discover Photosynths on Live Search Maps

It depends on the situation if I self-identify as a geek or not. Today, I thought it would be fine, so I signed up for the Geek Dinner organized by Scott Hanselman in Bellevue, WA.

Quite a lot of people showed up. I went there with my colleague Erwin van der Valk. He was a Development Consultant, like I currently am, at Microsoft Services in the Netherlands. Erwin now works on the Patterns & Practices team at Microsoft in Redmond.

I took this picture of the entire group:

Microsoft Geek Dinner 

After dinner, a large portion of the group went to the Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery in Bellevue to continue the conversation. I had some really interesting discussions, over beer, with guys from several different product teams and a fellow MCS consultant based in Denver, CO. And not even all about Microsoft technology 😉

Too bad, I won't be able to attend this event in the near future again, unless I just happen to be in the neighborhood.